You won’t find it on AZCentral, but Mike Kelly’s “My Turn” column in the Scottsdale Republic this morning brilliantly lays out several of the intertwined issues that have led us to our current state of confusion and angst about updating our General Plan. Please set aside what you are doing for a moment and read it.
City, residents must decide if General Plan will be meaningful
With Scottsdale creating a 2014 General Plan to possibly replace our 2001 plan, one issue deserves clarification. Will the forthcoming 2014 General Plan be a meaningful document, one that our governance structure — elected leaders, professional staff and citizens appointed to our boards, commissions and task forces — will support and implement? Or will it be a meaningless document, amended excessively and shown little respect?
Scottsdale citizens are divided over how much faithfulness is owed to our 2001 plan, and, by extension, to any successor General Plan. Arizona’s mandatory voter ratification of general plans fostered this division.
A January Scottsdale Republic editorial, “Lack of a few words for plan could be embarrassing,” described the General Plan as “an ultimately toothless and hifalutin document.”
A related editorial published in February, “Accord on Scottsdale’s vision for itself may take some magic,” the Scottsdale Republic commented “The city can’t afford to have its state-mandated General Plan update be held up over a paragraph-long Visioning Statement.” Oddly, the Scottsdale Republic failed to comprehend that dissatisfaction with Scottsdale’s proposed 2011 General Plan extended far beyond the Visioning Statement.
Those editorials put the newspaper at odds with citizens who consider Scottsdale’s currently operative 2001 General Plan to be a serious and important work. Those citizens are dismayed that Scottsdale’s voter-ratified General Plan is now ridiculed as a “toothless” document. Those citizens believe that Arizona’s general-plan voter-ratification requirement implies that the policies, standards and objectives of the General Plan would be faithfully implemented following voter approval.
In a Feb. 12, 2009 letter, I asked our mayor and City Council what “deliverables, benefits, or outcomes” were citizens here entitled to receive from their ratification of Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001? I also asked to what extent could citizens count on receiving intended land-development “outcomes” from their ratification of Scottsdale’s 2001 General Plan.
In a March 15, 2010 reply, a city official wrote that “Each succeeding City Council has the discretion to reconsider previous long-range policy decisions and may choose to modify them, subject of course, to community discussions in public hearings.” The letter also stated that voter-ratification of a General Plan did not establish a contract with citizens, as I had suggested.
I was informed that a General Plan is a flexible, amendable policy document. Arizona law includes procedures for amending general plans.
Some elected officials believe that voter-ratification of a community’s General Plan, while a legal requirement, places no constraints upon them. Those officials believe that their office affords them discretion in guiding growth and redevelopment, while following Arizona law. They claim they can override the General Plan as they deem appropriate.
But citizens who believe voter-ratification imparts increased significance to the General Plan perceive officials’ deviations from the plan as breaches of public trust. Voters extended that trust in ratifying the General Plan. Those citizens consider the General Plan more binding than advisory, and more directive than suggestive.
So, what should we expect? Will Scottsdale’s forthcoming 2014 General Plan be a meaningful document — or a meaningless one?
Michael S. Kelly of Scottsdale is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a former chairman of Scottsdale’s Transportation Commission.